Are Roaches Top Cause of Asthma?

Published August 1, 1997

Announcing his support for EPA’s new standards for particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone, President Clinton boasted that the regulations would benefit children. His observation echoed claims by EPA that the new standards would lower asthma rates among children.

What the president did not say was that a recently completed study, published in the May issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, attributes rising asthma rates among children in inner cities not to the substances EPA and Mr. Clinton want to regulate, but to cockroaches. The $17 million, eight-city study found that the most important cause of childhood asthma in U.S. inner cities may be allergies to cockroach droppings and debris. The study’s authors, including Dr. David Rosenstreich of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Dr. Floyd Malveaux of the Howard University School of Medicine, pointed out that allergies to cockroaches provoke an unusually severe form of asthma that is probably the source of the disproportionately high incidence of asthma in urban neighborhoods.

The study, conducted under the auspices of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found that more than one-third of asthmatic children were allergic to cockroaches. Half of those children were found to have high levels of cockroach droppings and debris in their bedrooms, where the children spend most of their time (including sleep time).

Ironically, Washington may well have unwittingly contributed to the cockroach-induced spread of asthma. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the government insisted on increasing energy efficiency in part by reducing the ventilation of air between indoors and outdoors. As a result, buildings constructed over the past two decades have less fresh air to dilute allergens.

PF: An abstract and background information on the Rosenstreich/Malveaux study, conducted for the National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study and published in the May 8, 1997 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is available at the Journal‘s web site. Point your web browser to Additional information about EPA’s proposed air quality standards and their impact on asthma sufferers is available through PolicyFax. Call 847/202-4888 and request document ##2303133, “EPA’s NAAQS Proposal: Cruel Hoax on Asthma Sufferers” (American Petroleum Institute, 1997, 3 pages).